It’s months like October that really remind me why I chose to blog about hip-hop music to begin with. The drought of September, with its dust bowl harvest of rotted mixtapes and wilted rhymes, has finally given way to a much-needed torrential downpour of rain, yielding fruitful and encouraging rappity rap spoils. Even John Steinback would discard that “woe-is-me”, Grapes of Wrath pessimism when playing witness to this unbelievably promising deluge of hip-hop gold. But seriously, enough with the played out metaphors–especially anything to do with water, since I dried up (no pun intended) all of my available references during my lengthy review of Mick Jenkins’ “The Water[s]”. Be sure to check out August’s Best Listens to download it today. Seriously, it’s one of the year’s best free releases.
Alright so quick summary of the Halloween month. First and foremost, I managed to employ Twitter more interactively and effectively, specifically through a conversation with Thurz (you can cop his new album “Designer EP” on iTunes, or stream on DJBooth–daaammmnnn that’s smooth) and an inadvertent beef ignition with Noreaga (don’t ever say that Capone n’ Noreaga rep Queensbridge hard on “The War Report”–you’re in for a world of embarrassment). Rather than add fuel to the flames, I simply pulled the ol’ “sorry for being a silly honkie that doesn’t know anything!”card. I proceeded to Google Map the public housing projects of New York so as to not repeat this mistake in future Twitter dialogues. Despite this hiccup, I would say that October was overly saturated with solid hip-hop, both on the paid and free side of the game.
On the paid side, holy pancakes batman were there a ton of releases. Rapsody, Vince Staples, Diamond District, Ras Kass & Apollo Brown. Apart from that powerhouse lineup, Logic dropped his much anticipated LP which saw the XXL Freshman really flex his hip-hop muscles. There were other more obscure releases with the likes of Devin Miles, repping Pittsburgh hard, and Bambu, who dropped one of the more political albums I’ve heard since Immortal Technique or Rebel Diaz. Rarely do I say that you should listen to everything listed on the Monthly Mixtape overview, but honestly, you would be doing yourself a favor. Half the reason this post is coming out so late was excessive musical digestion followed by tough decision-making for the final selections. Remember, you can only elevate two to the top.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
What To Buy:
Diamond District “March on Washington”
“My door aint always open//could catch me before the closing//knock on this opportunity//but you never go in”
From the moment I copped “In The Ruff” back in 2012, I simply could not stop spinning it. Each song, expertly produced by the one and only Oddisee, was a time warp back to the glory days of Gang Starr and old school hip-hop. It launched me into an intense love affair with Mello Music Group, where over the span of about three weeks, I downloaded more than 7 albums from the label’s artists. My discovery of Diamond District, comprised of yU, XO and Oddisee, also marked by glorious foray back into devouring hip-hop music on the reg and digging through the digital crates of the internet. Ultimately, it was really the beginning of my hip-hop renaissance after my prolonged hiatus from the culture. And now, despite visiting a laundry list of blogs weekly, Mello Music Group still sits at the top of my list, a proverbial north star for hip-hop quality.
From that foundation, I launched into my first listen of “The March on Washington” while home in Albany, New York, the place where I originally acquainted myself with the quintessential 90s hip-hop canon. The project kicks off with a spoken word poem that defines the avaricious nature of The Diamond District as Washington D.C., from its economic, political and cultural boundaries, while also serving to define the scope of The Diamond District, as the group and album. This description shifts into “The First Step” where the group charismatically announce their return to the hip-hop game and also affirm that they are not just the “D.C. Voltron”, but the torchbearers for the larger back-to-the-basics hip-hop movement. And it’s that march towards hip-hop purity that stays true throughout the entire album.
I have to say that so much of the excitement that comes from this album is grounded in the always complex, multi-layered beats of Oddisee. It’s his production that creates the necessary platform from which exciting lyrics can truly meld into full, rich tracks. The Disney-factory-sounds that create the foundation for “Working Weekends” starts from an almost pretentious standpoint of sipping light roasts in a coffee shop only to become a contrarian, pessimistic commentary on the misinformed and the karmic circumstances of action and inaction. The “Purveyors of Truth” reminisces of Cormega in his prime while the delicious funk of yesteryear gets turned up on “Ain’t Over” fueled by an amazing Marvin Gaye sample.
There’s so much more to dive into in the way of immersive, layered, complex hip-hop music which is what Diamond District excels at. The “March on Washington”, in almost every single instance, delivers impeccably, and then some. Given the tumult in Ferguson, an overhyped Ebola outbreak, broken immigration and healthcare, and countless other tenuous circumstances that have turned our comfort zones upside down, Diamond District answers with a march towards creativity, purity, justice and meaning. It’s a far cry from “In The Ruff”, which in comparison to “March on Washington”, almost sounds as if it really was released back in the 90s. The beats have evolved as have yU, XO and Oddisee. Overall, I would have to peg this one as one of my favorite paid releases of the year, and an album whose deeply layered songs are steeped in replay value. Yea, I would venture to say you should pick this one up.
And if there’s money left in the wallet:
- Logic, “Under Pressure”: An amazingly solid album from the Baltimore native who was prominently featured in the 2014 XXL Freshmen class. This was a close second to “March on Washington”, with some extremely dope beats and flows. Yea, I would buy this one too. Purchase It Here.
- Vince Staples, “Hell Can Wait EP”: Definitely one of the rising talents to watch, Vince Staples has put out a short but immersive listen with his fifth EP. The dichotomy of observing a veritable hell on earth while simultaneously embracing its dangerous byproducts is a reality that Staples readily accepts. Check out Blue Suede–straight dope. Purchase It Here.
What To Download:
Choosey “Left Field”
“I’m flickin’ pennies out the window//hope they hit you just to wish you luck//cause I’m prayin’ you seein’ faces when you pick ’em up.”
There certainly couldn’t be a more apt title for this surprise album from Choosey, who quite literally, stepped out of left field to bring you some quintessential hip-hop jamming. Don’t get me wrong, October was a month that bursting at the seams with hip-hop mixtapes all worthy of the coveted crown of “What to Download”. I definitely bumped “Run The Jewels 2”, enjoyed Rome Fortune’s new album, and even was surprised by Dillon Cooper’s nostalgic journey through the 90s. Yet for some reason, I’ve kept harking back to Choosey, probably for the consistency of his beat selection, content and commitment to diversity from track to track. You know from the opening song that you’re in for a ride that’s going to be taking it back to the basics of hip-hop creativity.
As Choosey moves into some of his self-produced tracks, like “Middle Finger Rap”, he flirts with some potentially hazardous rapper bravado that could fall into formulaic takedown hip-hop. But his well-delivered flow reinforces Choosey’s originality and mesh well with the more introspective follow-up tracks of “All Good” and “Matters”, the latter which samples one of my favorite Lauryn Hill joints. Fashawn’s guest appearance only enriches “Matters” and makes it, in many ways, quintessentially southern Californian. The obstacles faced are in some ways caused and solved by consumerism, but also just about enjoying the many joys of life. Who doesn’t love eggs and carne asada?
Much like the end of the song “All Good”, the album progresses with a diverse and impressive range of styles from Choosey and his accompanying producers. “Fly Me To The Moon” is probably one of the best examples of Choosey’s adept use of Exile beats, launching off from earthly challenges and astrological melancholy as he moves into outer space. The tracks from that point seem to meander from trials and tribulations with ladies, to his hip-hop dreams, and to the smooth title track “Left Field”, aptly produced by Exile. We probably in some ways see Choosey at his best during this track, flowing seamlessly over the beat and dropping some of his slickest and profound rhymes, which of course affirms the nature of his release.
It’s worth noting that just when you think Choosey may finish off his opus with something predictable, he drops “Outside”, a walk down childhood’s memory lane. Probably one of the most interesting commentaries about creativity throughout the album, Choosey navigates between the culture of a privileged teenage existence and the numbing influence of today’s technology. Perhaps that’s what ties Choosey’s entire album together–the drive to keep an ever co-opted art form creative, diverse and endlessly rich. He does it both simply and majestically, sticking to the basics but also recognizing that elegant simplicity requires refinement. Even though there were many others dropping stellar mixtapes, it’s Choosey’s simplicity and commitment to hip-hop purity that separated him from the pack. Call it nostalgia, call it optimism, call it whatever. But I’d call this damn good hip-hop.
And if there’s room in the hard drive:
- Chaz French, “Happy Belated”: From the opening track off of Chaz French’s newest album, passion oozes out of the speakers, the likes of which I haven’t heard in a while. He moves through the rest of his album as if we were doing heart surgery on every track, chronicling a relentless struggle to excel in hip-hop. Download It Here.
- Run The Jewels, “Run The Jewels 2”: Shit, do I even need to explain why this is on the list? RTJ2 is a beautiful and damn near perfect continuation of the original Run The Jewels released last year. Again, with precision, Killer Mike and El-P blend their patented hardcore cynicism and joyous apathy together in a deliciously rage-fueled package. Download It Here.